Death Cab for Cutie
The Postal Service
First Appeared at The Music Box, March 2004, Volume 11, #3
Written by T.J. Simon
Seattleís Death Cab For Cutie (DCFC) is a band often cited whenever the sub-genre of "emo" is discussed. This is likely due to the searing, heartfelt, and confessional lyrics delivered by the bandís hyper-intelligent leader Ben Gibbard, rather than any musical similarity to other emo outfits such as Dashboard Confessional or Jimmy Eat World. Indeed, 2003 was a busy year for Gibbard, who released an indie-pop DCFC album titled Transatlanticism as well as Give Up, an electronic pop, side-project collaboration with Jimmy Tamborello recorded under the moniker of The Postal Service.
At various times on Transatlanticism, Death Cab For Cutie sounds like Weezer, The Cure, or Coldplay. The entire effort features better-than-average pop instrumentation supporting substantially superior lyrics. Like his contemporaries Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) and Ted Leo, Gibbard spends time carefully selecting his words based on the radical songwriting theory that ó get a load of this ó good lyrics actually matter. The album begins powerfully with the anthemic The New Year, an up-tempo tune with smartness galore. Other high points include the bouncy The Sound of Settling and the harder We Looked Like Giants. The musical accompaniment varies from sparse piano on Passenger Seat to blazing guitars on Tiny Vessels. Thereís not a bad song on the disc, and the lyric sheet alone provides evidence of a songwriter who is bright beyond his name recognition.
When recording as The Postal Service, Gibbard collaborates with electronic music producer Jimmy Tamborello, who also records under the name Dntel. In 2001, they collaborated on a single track from Dntelís album Life Is Full of Possibilities, and that collaboration spawned The Postal Serviceís Give Up. As electronica goes, Give Up is accessible, easy-to-swallow stuff that doesnít make you feel like youíre at a rave-oriented dance party. Tamborelloís keyboard, drum machine, and synth programming generally recalls the style of William Orbit, who produced Madonnaís Ray of Light album. Musically, itís a spaced-out and soothing cocoon for Gibbardís smooth, yet prominent, voice.
Gibbardís vocals have the same pitch and tone as Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys, though he delivers them without any of the camp and flamboyance. The Postal Service wins largely due to the generous use of Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley) and Jen Wood who contribute background, harmony, and duet vocals on many of the albumís tracks. Gibbardís lyrics are once again sharp and compelling on cuts like The District Sleeps Alone Tonight and Sleeping In. While Death Cab For Cutieís lyrics seem more confessional, The Postal Service is full of imagery plucked from a vivid dream. The groupís best song is Nothing Better in which Gibbard and Wood duke it out, boy-vs.-girl style over the circumstances surrounding their failed relationship. The song brings to mind the similarly-themed 1981 single Donít You Want Me by The Human League.
Without question, Ben Gibbard is a voice worth hearing in indie music today, and both DCFC and The Postal Service do a fine job of showcasing his stellar songwriting ability. If the concept of syncopated drum beats, spiced with electronic bleeps and bloops is appealing, give The Postal Service a try. If, however, an organic approach sounds more intriguing, then Death Cab For Cutie is the better option. Either way, theyíre gems.
Give Up -
Transatlanticism is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Give Up is available from Amazon.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box